In 1986, computer programmer Matt Black and ex-art teacher Jonathan More were part time DJs on the rare groove scene. More also DJed on pirate radio, hosting the Meltdown Show on Kiss FM and worked at the Reckless Records store on Berwick Street, London where Black visited as a customer. Black had created a mixtape for a Capital Radio mix competition. He played the tape to More who suggested a separate edit be made of part of the mix. Black had mixed the Jungle Book's "King of the Swingers" with the break from James Brown's "Funky Drummer". This was the start of a collaboration that was released as "Say Kids, What Time Is It?" on a white label in January 1987.
Later in the year, after Black joined Kiss FM with his own mix-based show, the pair eventually joined forces for their own show, Solid Steel. During the year, the duo adopted the name Coldcut and set up a record label, "Ahead of Our Time", to release the single "Beats + Pieces" (one of the formats also included "That Greedy Beat"). All of these tracks were made by the assembly of spliced tape edits that would sometimes run "all over the room". The duo used sampling from Led Zeppelin to James Brown.
Coldcut's first mainstream success came when a representative from Island Records asked them to remix hip hop duo Eric B. & Rakim's "Paid in Full". The remix featured a prominent Ofra Haza sample and many other vocal cut ups as well as a looped rhythm which, when speeded up, became a staple of the breakbeats genre. After it proved popular in the clubs, this Coldcut "Seven Minutes of Madness" remix ended up being promoted as the single in the UK. Released in October 1987, it became a breakthrough hit for Eric B & Rakim outside the U.S., reaching #15 in the UK and the top 20 in a number of European countries. It was voted remix of the year and is now regarded as both a hip hop classic and a breakthrough in the remix field. This remix was itself sampled in the remix of "Pump Up the Volume" by MARRS that reached #1 in the UK, also in October 1987.
The next Coldcut single, released in February 1988, was "Doctorin' the House", featuring singer Yazz. It became a top ten hit, peaking at #6. In the same year, under the guise Yazz and the Plastic Population, they produced "The Only Way Is Up", a cover of a Northern Soul song. The record reached #1 in the UK in August. The duo had another UK Top 30 hit in September with "Stop This Crazy Thing" which featured reggae vocalist Junior Reid.
The single "People Hold On" became another UK Top 20 hit. Released in March 1989, it featured the then relatively unknown singer Lisa Stansfield. Coldcut and Mark Saunders produced her debut solo single "This Is the Right Time" which became another UK Top 20 hit in August as well as reaching #21 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 the following year.
Their debut album What's That Noise? was released in April 1989 on Ahead of Our Time and distributed by Big Life Records. As well as the guest vocalists from the singles, the album featured the fictional George Jetson and Mark E Smith. The U.S. version was distributed by Tommy Boy Records and featured Tommy Boy artist Queen Latifah rapping over the (previously instrumental) track "Smoke This One". Latifah's rap was decidedly anti-drug, while Coldcut's reggae dub-ish instrumental had tongue-in-cheek connotations of marijuana appreciation by virtue of its title. The album reached the Top 20 in the UK and was certified Silver.
Coldcut's second album, Some Like It Cold released in 1990, featured another collaboration with Queen Latifah on the single "Find a Way". This album failed to chart and, though "Find a Way" was a minor hit in the UK, no more singles were released. The duo were given the BPI's "Producer of the Year Award" in 1990.
After their success with Lisa Stansfield, her label Arista offered Coldcut a deal. They signed to the major label but their unwillingness to be moulded and promoted as a major act caused conflict. Eventually, the album Philosophy emerged in 1993. Singles "Dreamer" and "Autumn Leaves" (1994) were both minor hits but the album did not chart.
During this time, whilst touring Japan, they conceived and started their second record label, Ninja Tune, which continues to release diverse music by like-minded artists. The name Coldcut however stayed with Arista so there were no official Coldcut releases for the next three years. During this time, they still produced prolifically for artists on their new label as well as continuing Solid Steel on Kiss FM, running the club night Stealth (Club of the Year in the NME, The Face, and Mixmag in 1996) and multimedia work with Hex. They compiled Journeys by DJ - 70 Minutes of Madness in 1996 which was voted "Best Compilation of All Time" by Jockey Slut in 1998.
In February 1997, with the legal right to the Coldcut name back, they released a double pack single "Atomic Moog 2000" / "Boot the System", the first Coldcut release on Ninja Tune. This was not eligible for the UK chart because of time and format restrictions. A reworking of the early track "More Beats + Pieces" gave them their first UK Top 40 hit since 1989 in August. The album Let Us Play! followed in September and also made the Top 40. Videos were made for most songs, often by Hexstatic, and used a lot of stock footage. Songs often used the audio from the videos as samples incorporated into the music, such as with the songs "Timber" (released as a single in 1998) and "Pan Opticon". Also in 1997, Black created real-time video manipulation software, VJamm. Coldcut's live and DJ sets now relied on video as much as music. Their CCTV live show was featured at major festivals including Glastonbury, Roskilde, Sónar, the Montreux Jazz Festival, and John Peel's Meltdown.
In 1999, the remix album Let Us Replay! was released. The CD of the album also contained the VJamm software.
In 2000, the Solid Steel show moved to BBC London. Collaborations continued including 2001's "Re:volution" with The Guilty Party in 2001. In 2003, Black worked with Penny Rimbaud (ex Crass) on Crass Agenda's Savage Utopia project.
Coldcut returned with the single "Everything Is Under Control" at the end of 2005, followed in 2006 by their fifth studio album Sound Mirrors. Three further singles were released from the album including the Top 75 hit "True Skool" with Roots Manuva. This track features an Indian sample from a cult Bollywood era making the track popular on the bhangra and desi scene and with much of British Asian urban culture.
Conceptually, Coldcut owes as much to the ideas of beat writer and cut-up theorist William S. Burroughs, 1970s art / industrial group Throbbing Gristle, the religious writings of J. R. "Bob" Dobbs from the Church of the SubGenius, and the paranoid rants of Francis E. Dec, as they do to Hip Hop originators like Grandmaster Flash or later innovators Double Dee and Steinski.
One of the key aspects of the Ninja Tune ethos, stealth, implies that their following of DJs and listeners are "agents" in a Burroughsian sense, propagating the DIY ethic of play as an essentially subversive act by replaying and manipulating media under the radar of mainstream culture.
- What's That Noise? (April 1989) #20
- Some Like It Cold (1990) DNC
- Philosophy (1993) DNC
- Let Us Play! (8 September 1997) #33
- Let Us Replay! (1 February 1999) #166
- Sound Mirrors (16 January 2006) DNC
- "Say Kids, What Time Is it?" (1987)
- "Beats + Pieces" (feat. Floormaster Squeeze) (1987)
- "Doctorin' the House" (feat. Yazz & The Plastic Population) (February 1988) #6
- "Stop This Crazy Thing" (feat. Junior Reid & The Ahead of Our Time Orchestra) (September 1988) #21
- "People Hold On" (feat. Lisa Stansfield) (March 1989) #11
- "My Telephone" (May 1989) #52
- "Coldcut's Christmas Break" (December 1989) #67
- "Find a Way" (feat. Queen Latifah) (May 1990) #52
- "Dreamer" (August 1993) #54
- "Autumn Leaves" (10 January 1994) #50
- "Atomic Moog 2000" / "Boot the System" (12 February 1997) Ineligible for UK Singles Chart
- "More Beats + Pieces" (4 August 1997) #37
- "Timber" (Coldcut & Hexstatic) (9 February 1998) #91
- "Re:volution" (Coldcut & The Guilty Party) (4 June 2001) #67
- "Everything Is Under Control" (14 November 2005) #93
- "Man in a Garage" (9 January 2006) #95
- "True Skool" (feat. Roots Manuva) (17 April 2006) #61
- "Walk a Mile in My Shoes" (feat. Robert Owens) (14 August 2006) #103
Compilations and mix albums
Biography from Wikipedia